The Prestige

  • Title:  The Prestige
  • Director:  Christopher Nolan
  • Date 2006
  • Studio:  Touchstone, Warner Brothers
  • Genres:  Drama, SF, Historical
  • Cast:  Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Mark Ryan, William Morgan Sheppard
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray, R1

“But you wouldn’t clap yet, because making something disappear isn’t enough, you have to bring it back.  That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call… The Prestige.” – Mr. Cutter, narrating

“I love you.” – Alfred Borden
“Not today.  Well, some days it’s not true, and today you don’t mean it.  Maybe today you’re more in love with magic than me.  I like being able to tell the difference, it makes the days it is true mean something.” – Sarah Borden

“I don’t want to kill doves.” – Robert Angier
“Then stay off stage.  You’re a magician not a wizard.  You gotta’ get your hands dirty if you’re going to achieve the impossible.” – Mr. Cutter

“I can recognize an obsession, no good will come of it.” – Nikola Tesla

“The truly extra-ordinary is not permitted in science and industry.  Perhaps, you’ll find more luck in your field – where people are happy to be mystified.” – Tesla

The Prestige is a film about envy, jealousy, and obsession. But rather than jealousy over someone else’s relationship with a third person; or obsession with a person, The Prestige is about professional jealousy and obsession with an idea. Add to that it’s unusual structure, and it’s a fascinating film, that’s intriguing to watch.

This is the story of two stage magicians in the 1890s. They start off as friends, working with an ingenue (or magic trick designer) and a female magician (Julia, played by Piper Perabo) who is married to one of them (Angiers, played by Hugh Jackman). Bordan (Bale) seems to be jealous of Angiers relationship with his wife, though this is not obviously stated. And when Julia dies performing a water-tank trick, after Bordan tied her hands – Angiers becomes angry and blames Bordan for the accident. However, this definitely doesn’t become your cut-and-dried “you killed my wife – I’m going to get revenge” film. Even by the end of the film, we don’t really know if Bordan deliberately tied the wrong knot or if it really was an accident. However, the death of Julia is the spark that turns a friendship into a rivalry – and then into professional jealousy, and finally into obsession. As the film unfolds Angiers and Bordan both one-up each other, and both simply do horrible things to each other – physically harming each other, undercutting each other’s stage acts, and simply just not letting the rivalry rest but escalating it with each act of the film.

The structure of the film is also different.  It starts with the end, then tells the story through a series of interweaving flashbacks that tell the story in short scenes that not only move forward and back in time, but change point of view as well. The film begins with Angiers dying in a stage magician’s trick and Bordan being arrested and charged with his murder. The flashbacks explain their history, their rivalry, and Angiers growing obsession with Bordan’s trick:  The Transported Man. Angiers follows his obsession to Colorado where he meets Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) and his assistant Alley (Andy Serkis), and convinces them to build a special machine for him. Angiers both gets what he wants and gets much more than he bargained for. But, as the story unfolds – and different parts of the story are told first from Angiers point of view and then from Bordan’s, the audience learns more and more about these characters – the doomed characters.

Because the flashbacks are interweaving, as an audience member, not only is one forced to pay very close attention in order to follow the film – but one is also, constantly rearranging the scenes in one’s head. Especially the first time I watched this film, as I watched it, I found myself thinking, “OK, so this goes before that, and this goes before that, etc.”  But unlike other films with a lot of editing and scenes that aren’t presented in chronological order – with The Prestige, that the film’s story is essentially presented in reverse order before returning to the present and then again turning on a dime, everything in the story is crystal clear.  You will not be confused by the story – at all, once you get used to the style and concentrate on the plot.

I’m determined to not spoil this excellent film, but it is also very dark and even somewhat disturbing. To explain just what is going on, and how, would destroy the experience of seeing this film.  It’s excellent, with an excellent cast, incredible direction, and it’s very thought-provoking. However, it is very, very dark.  I mean, I’ve seen film noir before, but the final implications of this film really push the envelope into disturbing territory. Oh, and by disturbing – I do not in any way mean “gross” or bloody, or any of the typical tropes of horror. I wouldn’t even call this a horror film. Do not avoid this film simply because of a prejudice against horror – that is not what it is at all.

Recommendation:   See it
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Inception

Australia

  • Title:  Australia
  • Director:  Baz Luhrmann
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Romance, Historical, Drama
  • Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham, Brandon Walters
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“That strange woman, she fire Mr. Fletcher….  He can’t hurt Momma no more. …  From that day on, we call her, ‘Mrs. Boss’.  — Nullah, narrating
 
“We can’t let them win.” — Lady Ashley
“We won’t.” — Drover
 
“Sarah, I’m as good as Black [Aboriginal Australian] to that lot up there.  Now I don’t mix with dingos or duchesses.  They keep out of my way and I keep out of theirs.  That’s the way it is.” — Drover
“Just because it is, doesn’t mean it should be.” — Lady Sarah Ashley
“But that’s the way it is.”  — Drover
 
Australia is a grand sweeping epic.  It has elements of an American Western, strangely enough (the first act involves a cattle drive) but the second act is where the film really shines.  Australia is beautifully filmed and the land itself is often the star of the picture.  The cast look fantastic too, especially Hugh Jackman (at his sexy best as the rough Outback drover, Drover) and Nicole Kidman (who looks incredible, whether she’s wearing traditional English clothes, or something more suited to Australia’s climate).  David Wenham, as Mr. Fletcher, is playing a real s.o.b. — and relishing it.  And newcomer, Brandon Walters, is incredible as Nullah – the half Aboriginal / half white child, who narrates much of the story.
Australia begins with a brief introduction narrated by Nullah, who’s spear fishing with his Grandfather, “King George”, the magician.  A man (who we’ll later discover is Maitland Ashley) is killed.  Then the film transitions to England, and Lady Ashley.  A pampered young aristocrat (played by Kidman), she’s annoyed her husband has yet to sell ‘that ranch in Australia’.  Convinced her husband is fooling around in more ways than one, she boards a plane and heads for Australia.  Just prior to landing, she receives a telegram that she’s to meet Drover (Hugh Jackman) who will take her to Faraway Downs, their ranch.
But all is not well in Darwin when she arrives.  It’s a rough town, war is on the horizon, and a cattle baron named King Carney has bought up all the land in Northern Australia, except the Ashleys’ Faraway Downs. Yet the price he offers her is far below what it’s worth.  Lady Ashley meets with Drover, who takes her to the ranch.  When they finally arrive, she finds her husband’s been murdered.  She also discovers her husband’s most trusted cattle-hand, Fletcher, has been beating the native women and children who live on the ranch, stealing cows and driving them across the river to Carney’s land, and that he’s also responsible for her husband’s death; most of which she can’t prove to the law.  To her credit, Lady Ashley fires Fletcher.  She then gets Drover to agree to drive 1500 head of cattle to Darwin to sell to the Army. Needing at least seven people for the cattle drive, they assemble a motley crew and head off.
The drive is an adventure, and Australia itself shines in untamed glory. Fletcher uses under-hand tactics against the drive, such as spooking the cattle with fire towards a cliff.  But despite the challenges, Drover and Sarah make it to Darwin.  There, Carney has just gotten the Army representative to sign a contract, as Sarah and Drover arrive with the cattle.  However, the contract isn’t valid until the cows are loaded onto a ship, and Sarah and Drover manage to get their cattle on the ship first.  Sarah wins her contract.
Sarah invites Drover to the ball to celebrate, but he refuses, stating he isn’t one of  the upper crust of  people.  Sarah nearly sells Faraway Downs, but Drover arrives at the ball, cleaned up and in a suit.  The two dance together and decide to make a go of it, taking the half-Arboriginal/half-white child, Nullah, into their unofficial  custody.
Nullah narrates much of the story, and Sarah comes to love the child, especially as she can’t have children of her own.  Drover also loves the child, as his first wife was Black (or Arboriginal) but she died of untreated TB.  Drover, Nullah, and Sarah are happy for a time, enjoying the “wet” season, and Sarah even understands that Drover will be off droving during “the dry” season.  Soon however, the trio’s happiness is shattered.
Fletcher kills King Carney, making it look like an accident.  Nullah wishes to go walkabout with his grandfather.  Drover, understanding the custom, wants him to go, but Sarah disagrees, thinking the child’s too young.  When Nullah disappears, Drover thinks he’s gone with his grandfather anyway, but Sarah thinks something is wrong.  Nullah and his grandfather are arrested by the local police at Fletcher’s insistance — Nullah to be sent to the Mission School for assimilation, and King George to be tried for the deaths of Maitland and King Carney.
Sarah goes off to Darwin to try to get Nullah back.  Drover is off working in the Outback and has no idea what’s going on.  The Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, then Darwin, hitting the mission island first, then the small army town itself.  Sarah’s right in the middle of things.  Drover arrives too, but he’s too late.  He’s told Sarah died in the communications tent.  Drover is completely bereft.  However, a young priest finds him and asks for help getting to the mission island to recover any children they can.  Drover, not knowing that Nullah was sent to the island, and having nothing to lose, agrees to help the priest, as does Drover’s close friend and brother-in-law Muggery.
They get to the island and rescue Nullah and some of the other children.  Muggery is killed by Japanese soldier as they make their escape in a boat.  Meanwhile, Sarah is helping with the evacuation of Darwin, unaware that she’s been reported dead or even that Drover is in town.
Drover’s ship sails through the fog and smoke back to Darwin.  The children land.  Sarah hears the children’s singing, refuses to get on the convoy truck and runs to find the ship pulling in.  She’s reunited with Nullah and Drover.
As a last act of mischief  Fletcher fires a rifle at Nullah.  He hits the child, but Nullah’s grandfather kills him with a thrown spear.  Nullah recovers and he, Sarah, and Drover return to Faraway Downs.  Later, Sarah allows him to go walkabout with his grandfather.
This is an excellent movie.  It’s beautifully filmed, both the wild scenery and the people.  The story is a bit typical romantic plot, but the child Nullah, lifts the story out of  romantic drama cliche’.  The cast is excellent. I highly recommend seeing it!
Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Avengers

Master and Commander

  • Title: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Date: 2003
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox, Miramax, Universal
  • Genre: Action, Drama, Historical Epic
  • Cast: Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Billy Boyd, James D’Arcy
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Would you call me an aged man of war, Doctor? The Surprise is not old. She has a bluff bow, lovely lines. She’s a fine sea bird, weatherly, stiff and fast. Very fast, if she’s well handled. No, she’s not old. She’s in her prime.”— Captain Jack Aubrey

“This is the second time he’s done this to me. There will not be a third.”— Captain Aubrey

“England is under threat of invasion. And though we be on the far side of the world, this ship is England.”— Captain Aubrey

I loved this movie the first time I saw it, and I really do enjoy it every time I re-watch it. Peter Weir is a very talented director, who manages to balance the large scale, such as full-on battles between tall ships during the Napoleonic Wars, and the more intimate story of the unlikely friendship between the ship’s doctor, a man of science; and the ship’s captain, a life-long Navy man.

Master and Commander is set in 1805, and the HMS Surprise is a man o’war, captained by Jack Aubrey, a hard but fair man, lucky, but also experienced. He’s been in the service his entire life. The ship’s doctor is Stephen Maturin, – a man of science, and a naturalist. He’s close enough friends with Aubrey to be able to challenge him, and speak his mind, especially when talking to Aubrey as his friend, rather than as a member of the crew. The film is based on a series of several novels by Patrick o’Brian, specifically the two that form the film’s compound title (the first introduces the characters, the second is the plot of the film, since Weir wanted to do a plot involving a long sea voyage).

The film contains a lot of beautiful historical details (I love the look of the ship, especially when Aubrey stands alone on the top of a mast). However, the film also doesn’t shy away from the brutal historical facts of the life of sailors, especially naval sailors in the 19th century. The crew of HMS Surprise is shockingly young, and as the British are at war with France, the young die too. We also see Aubrey order the flogging of a disrespectful sailor, not because he is cruel, but to keep discipline. Life in His Majesty’s navy is tough, nasty, and often short — and the film shows you that.

The plot of the film is basically that of a cat and mouse game. A French privateer frigate is harassing British whalers and merchant ships. Aubrey is ordered to find the ship and – “sink, burn, or take her as a prize” as the film’s opening printed narration tells the audience. But the frigate vastly outguns the Surprise — 44 guns to 28, with twice the crew, and the frigate has two decks to the man o’war’s single deck. The frigate also seems to be a cross between a ghost, a Flying Dutchman, and Jack’s opposite number. In two engagements, the Surprise is caught nearly unaware, and the frigate has the “weather gauge” or the advantage in the engagement. In their final battle, Aubrey turns the tables and is able to successfully surprise the frigate, but at a high cost in lost men.

A secondary plot is the ship’s doctor, a naturalist. Because of the damage done to the ship, in both the battles with the frigate and a journey around Cape Horn in a storm, one place Aubrey takes the ship during repairs is the Galapagos — someplace Stephen would dearly like to explore, to collect and document new species of wildlife. But every time it looks like the ship might head there – the frigate shows up, and Aubrey must fight.

There is also a plot about one of the Midshipmen being cursed as a “Jonah”. Basically, he’s scapegoated for the ship’s run of bad luck. He’s the Midshipman whom another sailor disrespects, and gets lashed as a result. The scapegoat plot is one of several examples showing the innate superstition of the sailors. The Midshipman commits suicide, and the ship’s luck begins to turn. Though, Dr. Maturin is accidentally shot after the poor lad’s death. (Maturin is shot by one of the Royal Marines who’s taking pot shots at a following albatross. Obviously, the guy never read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”). Aubrey temporarily gives up his chase of the frigate, so Maturin can be brought ashore to remove the bullet and cloth in his stomach. Stephen does the surgery himself, using a mirror, and Aubrey keeps a hand on Maturin’s belly to steady him. It’s one of the more frightening scenes in the film – not that it’s overly gross, but can you imagine operating on yourself?  Even if it’s the only way to survive? Yikes!

The final battle is total chaos, then silence, then more chaos. Aubrey looks fine, and in his element as he boards the enemy vessel. Billy Boyd is also quite good in the scene! For the most part, he’s seen alot but doesn’t get many lines, but it is nice to see him again. Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany are perfectly cast, and have a great rapport with each other. The rest of the crew of the HMS Surprise slowly move from faces to having personalities.

One thing both Aubrey and Maturin share is a love of music. Aubrey plays violin and Maturin the cello; and their duets in the captain’s cabin are some of the best moments in a film that is full of excellent moments.

Again, Weir’s direction really is excellent — and he’s now one of my favorite directors. There are plenty of gorgeous shots in this film: the ship at full sail, the creatures in the Galapagos Islands, etc. There are also plenty of terrifying shots: the storm around Cape Horn, the battle scenes. But the driving force of the story is the friendship of Aubrey and Maturin; and the comradeship between the sailors on the ship.

I have the two-disc collector’s edition and it really is a beautiful DVD set. The set looks like old parchment, with line drawings of Crowe and the ship. The special features are located on the second disc and there are plenty of  them and they are enjoyable to watch. I also found that I learned from the special features, especially about the different techniques used in the production of the film.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

The Sting

  • Title:  The Sting
  • Director:  George Roy Hill
  • Date:  1973
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, Dana Elcar
  • Format:  Widescreen, color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’ll get him anyway.”  — Johnny Hooker
“Why?”  — Henry Gondorff
” ‘Cause I don’t know enough about killing to kill him.”  — Johnny

“What was I supposed to do?  Call him for cheating better than me in front of the others?”  — Doyle

The Sting is the original caper film.  Without The Sting, there is no Ocean’s 11 or it’s sequels either the original or the new ones, and there’s no White Collar, Leverage, or Hustle either.  But it’s a classic that stands on its own two feet as well, not simply as the film that establishes a sub-genre all by itself.  The film begins with Luther and Johnny, two con artists, working street cons.  As the film opens in Joliet, Illinois in 1936, the two con artists pull a switch, but unknown to them they’ve picked the wrong victim – a numbers runner for the Chicago Irish mob.  Initially, they are thrilled to pull a $11,000 con… but then one of the con artists, Luther, is killed, and Johnny knows that if he gets caught, the mob will kill him too.

Johnny travels up to Chicago and meets Henry Gondorff an old friend of Luther’s.  Gondoroff gathers a group of con artists together and they decide to pull a con on the mobster they blame for Luther’s death. Luther’s so well-known in the con artist underground that everyone wants to help to stick it to his killer where it hurts — in the wallet.

The film is set-up in sections:  The Set-Up, The Hook, The Tale, The Wire, The Shut Out, and The Sting — each with a beautifully designed title card.  And each section of the film is exactly what it says, as the con artists rope in and set-up their victim.  However, what makes The Sting a great and memorable film is the surprise ending… which I’m not going to spoil here.  If you’ve seen the film, you know exactly what I’m talking about — and if you haven’t, it’s just not fair to spoil the surprise ending.  There are hints throughout the film, but it does come as a surprise the first time you see it and it really makes the movie.

This film also features a great partnership between the older, nearly washed-up con artist (Paul Newman) master of  the Big Con, and his new, young, apprentice (Robert Redford).  A number of  excellent character actors round out the cast.  Also, the film is set in the 1930s, which means great suits and hats but on the negative side — some very rough, inappropriate language.

Overall, a great film, especially if you are a fan of the caper film as a genre.  I recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle

Gone with the Wind

  • Title:  Gone with the Wind
  • Director:  Victor Fleming
  • Date:  1939
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  Classic, Romance, Historical Epic
  • Cast:  Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia deHavilland, Ann Rutherford
  • Format:  Technicolor, Standard
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Most of the miseries of the world were caused by wars, and when the wars were over — no one ever knew what they were about.”  — Ashley Wilkes

“No, I don’t think I will kiss you.  Although you need kissing and badly, that’s what’s wrong with you.  You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.”  — Rhett Butler

“What a woman!” — Rhett Butler

Gone with the Wind sweeps you into it’s story gradually but completely.  You are quickly immersed in the story and the characters.  And the film is really Scarlett’s story.  Scarlett O’Hara, despite first appearances, in a way is a very modern character, and at times a strong woman.  She’s manipulative, determined, strong and feisty, and she knows what she wants (or thinks she does).  She’s willing to do whatever she has to do, whenever she has to.  Scarlett is in sharp contrast to Melanie (deHavilland) who’s kind and generous — to a fault, and weak and even, at times, a bit simple.  Melanie can be strong (watch her face down Union troopers in the second half of the film for example), and she’s honest about her feelings and in her marriage to Ashley (her much older cousin).  DeHavilland is fantastic in her thankless role as the perfect Melanie.  Scarlett’s sisters never learn anything about strength, or getting what they want (which is simply a husband to care and provide for them) and whine and simper-on throughout the film.  Scarlett never once whines or complains, not really, she just does what needs to be done, or what she thinks she needs to do (and she doesn’t care at all who she hurts in the process). Essentially Scarlett’s a bitch in both the good and bad sense of the word.  Because in some circles to be a bitch is a compliment, and in some circles it’s the only way to really survive.  And whatever else you say about Scarlett O’Hara — she’s a survivor.

When we meet Scarlett, she’s not that impressive — she comes off as dumb, and shallow, concerned only with her looks, and her beaus.  But even in the beginning of the film it’s suggested she’s not as dumb as she pretends – she just acts that way because it’s how she’s been taught and how she thinks she can get a man.  However, she soon finds out the man she’s “wanted”, who she thinks really loves her, Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) from the plantation next door, is going to marry his cousin Melanie, instead.  We aren’t told if this is an arranged marriage or a love match.  Ashley and Melanie are actually well suited to each other — both are kind and gentle, always doing what’s expected, never raising any controversy, filling their roles the way one was expected to — given the times and their statuses.  Scarlett, throughout the film says both aloud and by her actions that she loves Ashley and that she’s convinced he loves her — even when both are married to other people.

The war (the American Civil War) comes and all the men go off to fight.  Ashley and Melanie have been married.  Scarlett, in a fit of pique, marries Charles, Melanie’s brother, even though Charles was her sister’s beau.  Charles dies of pneumonia during the war.  Scarlett really doesn’t care, and even rebels at wearing Widow’s Weeds and not dancing at the next round of society balls (which at this point are only being held as war fund raisers).  She gives in to convention, though, and manages to look stunning in black.  (At the time, only a widow would have worn black, especially at a society function).  During the society ball, she manages to arrange things so each of the women will be “auctioned off” for dances. Rhett Butler bids on and wins Scarlett.  She’s so desperate to dance, she takes him up on it, claiming it’s for charity (we know it’s not).  Rhett is the dashing stranger — he’s avoided service in the war because he has no desire to get himself  killed and he hates all the waste of  war.  Rhett’s a gambler, a blockade runner, and a rakish rogue.  He’s trouble and considering Scarlett is as well — they are very suited to each other.  Even Rhett says to her, they are two of a kind.

Scarlett and Melanie end up in Atlanta, working as nurses to help the wounded.  Scarlett doesn’t particularly like this duty, but she knows she must do it.  Melanie has Ashley’s baby (nine months after his Christmas leave). She’s sick and ill just before and during the birth, but Scarlett manages to figure out and help with the process.  By this time, the war is nearly over, and Sherman’s troops are marching on Atlanta.  Rhett comes to the rescue of the three women (Scarlett, Melanie, and Scarlett’s maid, Prissy) and the baby.  He gets them out of Atlanta and safely on the road to Tara, Scarlett’s home, then leaves, informing Scarlett he’s going to join the war effort for a last stand.

Scarlett manages to make it the rest on the way on her own, seeing Twelve Oaks (the Wilkes plantation) burned to the ground on the way.  Tara’s survived, but her family’s in ruins:  her mother has died, her sisters are still weak and ill from a fever that killed her mother, and her father’s gone out of his head from shock.  Saddled with a another sickly and physically weak woman and a baby, Scarlett endures.  She finds that her home still stands, but it sits in the middle of a wasteland, and there’s no food or money. Scarlett runs out into a field, eats a carrot she finds, and starts to throw up.  Then  she holds up her hand, “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again,” she swears.  This is the end of part one, and the intermission card is on the DVD.

Part two picks up during the Reconstruction.  Scarlett is told she needs three hundred dollars to pay the taxes on her home.  That might not sound like much, but in the 1860s/1870s it was a small fortune, especially when you have absolutely no way of making any money.  Scarlett uses a pair of drapes to sew herself a new dress and tries to get the money from Rhett Butler.  He’s in a union jail (stockade) and can’t access his money which is in a London bank.  (After all, it’s not like they had ATMs back then, and though he could access his funds via bank draft, it could be traced and the money taken — this is a risk Butler isn’t willing to take).  Scarlett then runs into Frank Kennedy, another of Sue Ellen (her sister’s) beaus. She marries Frank to get at his money that he’s made running a general merchandise store, and convinces him to buy the lumber mill next door.  Scarlett saves Tara, but lives in Atlanta, running the mill and lumber business.

Scarlett proves to be a shrewd businesswoman, running the mill (though Ashley Wilkes is her partner in name), at a time when women seldom worked, much less ran their own businesses.  However, one day she takes a horse and buggy (another concept the ladies in town find scandelous – Scarlett driving her own buggy, alone) through a bad area of town.  She’s attacked.  Rhett Butler shows up and rescues her. Scarlett, Melanie and the other girls have a sewing party, and Scarlett knows something is going on, but doesn’t know what.  She later learns Ashley, her husband, Frank, and several other men have gone to attack the men who attacked Scarlett.  Frank’s killed.  Ashley returns, wounded, but alive.  (Rhett again comes to the rescue, faking being drunk, with Ashley faking being even drunker, as in the local doctor, so they can get into Tara which is being guarded by Reconstructionist/Union troops on the lookout for the men who attacked the men who attacked Scarlett).  A widow again, and in Widow weeds, again, Rhett proposes to Scarlett.  They marry and soon have a daughter, Bonnie.

Scarlett, however, is so vain, that after the birth of  her daughter, she decides not to have any more children because it will ruin her figure.  Rhett considers divorcing Scarlett when she tells him this, but decides to stay. He’s fallen for Scarlett, despite their tendency to constantly fight, and Scarlett’s drinking issues.

When Bonnie’s around eight, Rhett gets fed-up and takes Bonnie with him on a trip to England, when they return dual tragedies occur:  Bonnie’s killed in a horse-jumping accident (it really is one of  the saddest moments of the entire film), and Scarlett, who’s gotten pregnant again, despite her intentions, falls/is pushed down a flight of stairs, gets sick, and has a miscarriage.  Her second pregnancy is interesting anyway because it’s the result of something seldom talked about now, and certainly not in 1939 — marital rape.  (She’s drunk/he’s drunk — they fight, he carries her up the stairs and literally has his way with her, then leaves for London the next day).  Also, the scene on the stairs between Rhett and Scarlett is filmed in such a way that we really don’t know if Scarlett fell by accident, if she fell accidentally on purpose to anger Rhett, or if Rhett was so angry at her he pushed her without thinking.  Whatever — he’s devastated by the two losses.  It doesn’t help that though Scarlett calls out for him, all the women around her decide not to tell  Rhett she wants him with her when she’s ill.  Shortly thereafter, Melanie, who was told not to have more children, get’s pregnant, has a miscarriage, and dies of sepsis  (or possibly pre-eclampsia). She even tells Scarlett to look after Ashley for her.  Scarlett talks to Ashley though, and finally realises she really loves Rhett, and her feelings for Ashley were a childish crush and a pipe dream.  She goes to tell Rhett — but he basically doesn’t believe her and leaves her.  In the end, Scarlett’s bereft and without a man, but she realises that she does still have the one thing that really matters — land, Tara, her home.   Somehow, Scarlett will be just fine.

Gone with the Wind really is a great film.  It’s more than simply a romance or a war film.  It’s unusual in that the entire film is told from the point of view of a woman — and not a goody-goody woman, but a woman who’s complex, scheming and manipulative.  And unlike the designing women or femme fatales of the Film Noir films, Scarlett isn’t made to fatally suffer for her mis-doings.  The film sweeps you up and into it’s world and it’s characters.  Vivien Leigh is gorgeous, and gives an incredible performance as Scarlett.  Clark Gable is fantastic as Rhett Butler.  The rest of the cast shine in their roles, sometimes in the smallest and simplest scenes (such as the conversation between Melanie and the Atlanta madam Miss Belle after she hides Ashley and saves his life).

The film also looks gorgeous — it’s a early Technicolor film, and the colors just pop right off the screen.  I loved the restoration work on my copy — it looks brand new, with no color bleeding or red cast.  There are scenes in Gone with the Wind that still impress, such as the burning of  Atlanta.  The film is of course, based on a novel, and print screen cards appear not just at the beginning of  the film, but throughout the movie explaining what is going on, especially in the larger canvas of the Civil War — it adds to the scope of the film.

The politics of the film deserve a mention — this is a film that white-washes (no pun intended) the Old South, and slavery in particular.  Blacks (called “darkies” in the film — even by Scarlett and Rhett) are referred to as servants, not the slaves they were.  They are also portrayed as being well treated and taken care of and happy with their lot (something that simply wasn’t true).  The film is definitely sympathetic to the South.  However, that speaks volumes about the times when the film was made (1939) and the times the film portrays (the 1860s) as well as the point-of-view of the author of the book. Students can learn from such a film what attitudes were in the past, and then learn what the harsh realities were.

About the famous slapping scene, though — often it’s taken, completely out of context as an example of the film’s racism.  However, when Scarlett slaps Prissy — she’s hysterical.  Scarlett could have easily have slapped a white woman who was behaving in such a fashion.  And Scarlett pretty much slaps everyone in the film at one point or another (including her sister, Rhett, Ashley, and possibly even Melanie – but again to wake her up).  Slapping Prissy is not out of character for Scarlett, it’s in character.  And considering Prissy’s hysterical at the time — she needed to be slapped (it’s film grammar for shutting up a hysterical woman).  Besides, in the film’s context — Prissy is Scarlett’s slave, not a servant, and technically Scarlett had the right to hit her.  Not that it’s right, but there you go.  There’s a lot more in Gone with the Wind that is on the racist side, but that scene isn’t one of those things.  It certainly isn’t something worth banning the film for, as has been proposed occasionally.

Overall, a really remarkable film and a must see.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Mary Poppins